Daytona 500 Media Day (Michael McDowell)

MICHAEL MCDOWELL, No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang Dark Horse – DO YOU STILL GET GOOSEBUMPS COMING BACK HERE AS A DAYTONA 500 RACE WINNER? “Yeah, it is a special place because when you have won it you know what it is like to experience it. Prior to that you dream of what it is like to experience it. Having a good program and having fast cars and knowing that we will have a shot at it is exciting and fun when you roll through the tunnel. It is still a special place.”

YOU NOT ONLY HAVE A SHOT TO WIN THIS RACE AGAIN BUT YOU SEEM TO HAVE A SHOT AT THE PLAYOFFS AND MAYBE EVEN A CHAMPIONSHIP. THAT MUST BE FUN TO LOOK FORWARD TO: “It is, especially going into this year. Last year was one of our better seasons, probably our best season and we carried a lot of momentum and confidence. The biggest and most important part of that is keeping a lot of the same personnel because the last few years there have been a lot of changes and so this year, going in with almost the same group as we had last year is really valuable.”

DO YOU STILL COME THROUGH THE OLD TURN 4 TUNNEL AND IS IT NOSTALGIC WHEN YOU DO? “Well, I came in through the Turn 1 tunnel yesterday but I went out through the Turn 4 tunnel and yeah, it is. It really is. I don’t know if I am weird but I still look at all the pictures driving through and all the different race cars. It is a special place, it really is. It is a lot of things. One of the things it is for me is it is a reminder of it being a fresh year and a fresh opportunity and another opportunity and not everybody gets those. It is kind of that reminder of not just the season starting but that this is where it kicks off and there is a long season ahead and a lot to look forward to.”

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE TEAM IN GENERAL WITH THE PERSONNEL YOU HAVE COMING BACK AND KEEPING THAT GROUP TOGETHER WHICH ISN’T A LUXURY YOU HAD IN RECENT YEARS? “The last few years, even though we have had decent success have been really tough from that aspect of having a good year and then we would lose a lot of those people. Then you have another good year and lost a lot of those people. It is hard to build chemistry and hard to find good people and people that you click with and can build that confidence and momentum with. To finally have a group that we have kept together and to come back to the race track is a big part of what I think will be a success for us this year. We have a good notebook and understand how each other work and that is a big part of what we have seen over the years when you look at guys that go on a roll, it is usually that group. You think about Chad (Knaus) and Jimmie (Johnson) and what they were able to accomplish. You have to build that team aspect around that individual car and I feel like this year we have the opportunity to do that.”

THE NEW FORD BODY, WILL THAT MAKE THE DUEL RACES MORE INTERESTING WITH TRYING TO FEEL THAT OUT AND A BASELINE OF WHAT YOU HAVE AND HOW IT DRAFTS? “Yes, to all that. I am sure the car will have speed but there are going to be some new particulars with the nose and how it lines up and how you push and not just balance but getting a feel for where you need to position yourself. It is going to be learning on the fly but I am glad that we have Thursday to do that. We will definitely try to get the best starting position we can but at the same time I am going to be moving around and trying to find that sweet spot of where your car wants to be because you can simulate and CFD and all those things and have a decent idea of what you are going to have, but until you get on the race track you don’t truly know what it will be like. I would imagine we will utilize some of those practices too just because we probably have a few things to work through to understand it a little better. I am looking forward to it. The car looks great and I don’t think we lost anything in those areas that we talked about where we won’t be able to push or anything like that.”

WHAT MAKES THE DAYTONA 500 SO SPECIAL? “It is hard to describe. I think it is just the history and significance of the race and what it means. For me, it probably has a little more meaning because when I started coming down here it was for the 24 hours. The 24 hours of Daytona is a big deal too and to me, that was my first exposure to Daytona. Then to come here as a NASCAR driver for the Daytona it was like, ‘Whoa, the Rolex isn’t that big anymore’, once you see what this is and what this means. I think there are a handful of places in the world that are like that. Daytona and Indianapolis and Monaco and there are some other places that have that sort of prestige and feel to it but Daytona there is just so much history here and it is a really special place.”

TALK ABOUT DRAFTING, HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO HAVE FRIENDS HERE? “Yeah, you gotta have friends and it kind of goes in an order, right? You start with your teammates, so for me, it is Todd Gilliland and Kaz Grala here. Those are your most important allies and then for us you have your Ford Performance partners, the other Fords that are in the race that will try to work together. Then when it gets down to the end, if you don’t have any of those with you, it is just whoever the guy is that is next to you that is willing to dance for a little bit. You know they are going to try to position themselves the best they can and so the goal is to make yourself valuable to them as well. So when you make moves, when you pull out of line not leaving a guy and hanging them out. Sort of building that trust throughout the race. We all know that on the last lap it all kind of goes out the window but you can’t get in position without help. You are not going to make the runs yourself. You are going to have to have help. It is finding those key people you can work with and hopefully, as the race unfolds they are there at the end when you need them because that is when it is really going to count.”

Ford Performance PR